The Best Ways to Help With Relief Efforts for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

By Amanda Cardini, Staff Writer

Hurricane Harvey damage in Rockport, Texas. Photo courtesy of ABCNews.

As America began recouping from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane whose collision course shredded towns across Texas, Hurricane Irma commenced its journey towards the United States promising to be almost as destructive. Hurricane Harvey has already caused as much as $180 million in damages, according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The storm wreaked havoc on an area spanning over 300 miles, displaced more than 1 million people, killed around 50 others, and damaged about 200,000 homes.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma, which started off as a Category 4 hurricane barreling through the Caribbean, has since been demoted to a Tropical Storm and continues making its way through the American South. Leaving millions without power, the storm has ripped up trees, turned streets into rivers and destroyed homes, livelihoods and memories of residents in the area. Homes with a history of years and decades of family ties and growth have been destroyed by both hurricanes. There is no doubt the cities affected can use all the help they can get.

Hurricane Irma, Caribbean. Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Fortunately, there are several organizations doing heroic, selfless work to not only get these cities back up and running again, but also to restore the lives of those who lost everything. The process of rebuilding takes a long time; short term goals include providing shelter, food, medical attention and rescue efforts, while long term goals can take several years and include reconstructing parts of the city. Whether you’re near or far, there are plenty of ways to get involved and make an impact.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) has helpful tips on donating to natural disaster relief efforts. USAID deems monetary donations the most helpful and efficient way to give. While it notes that donating items can also be beneficial, the guidelines lay out several issues that can arise from material donations. For one, many people will inevitably donate “unsolicited” items, meaning items that are not needed to aid the situation or are inappropriate for serving the needs of those affected. Secondly, the transportation of these materials can be costly and time consuming. Monetary donations allow experienced professionals to purchase the materials that are critically important, and gives them the flexibility to respond to needs that may be constantly changing. It also provides them with the means to do this locally to avoid transportation costs. However, if you choose to donate money, it’s important to do your research to make sure you’re giving to an established and reputable organization. Charity Navigator is one website that allows users to research and discover organizations, and even has an index of groups involved in both hurricanes located on its homepage. There are plenty of organizations to choose from, including those providing general aid and funding as well as some with more specified missions, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is working to evacuate pets from the areas.

Despite the potential issues, many organizations are accepting material donations. An easy way to prevent your donation from causing more of a logistical headache than helping is to do your research and ensure that there is a need for any items you want to donate. There are several ways to ensure your donation meets a specific need; local food banks are one place to start, and will likely have guidelines listed on their websites as to what type of donations they require. Other local organizations are collecting clothing and other items such as diapers.

Hurricane Irma, Miami. Photo courtesy of Business Insider.

Shelter is one of the most important immediate needs during any natural disaster. Airbnb is currently providing a platform for volunteers to open up their homes and provide free shelter to both individuals displaced by the storms and workers sent to the areas to aid in rebuilding efforts.

If you’re thinking about wanting to join in on reconstruction yourself, there may be better ways for you to get involved; the USAID website points out that in most cases, there is only a need for individuals with experience in natural disaster relief efforts. An alternative way of getting more directly involved is by donating blood to organizations such as the American Red Cross. There are also groups such as Direct Relief, a nonprofit providing medical aid to the areas affected by these emergencies, that are addressing many other medical needs. Direct Relief is currently providing funding and emergency medical kits to both hurricanes. The medical kits include insulin, asthma inhalers, hypertension medication and other medical equipment.

The devastation of a natural disaster goes beyond the infrastructure of a city; many individuals’ entire lives are destroyed as their homes are broken down. There are so many ways to help locally, nationally and even internationally for the cities affected by these hurricanes. If you can’t donate monetarily or prefer to get involved more directly, consider looking into local organizations to provide clothing, food or other materials. In times of need it’s a beautiful gesture for communities on both small and large scales to come together to provide support, no matter what that support entails.

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